Sunday, April 18, 2010

Trinity, Filioque and the Monarchy of the Father

 For one of the finest most complete briefs of the teaching concerning Catholic and patristic understandings of filioque and Trinity please follow this link.   An excerpt from the discussion follows below.  I am exceptionally grateful to the author for his insight and his integrity!

April 16, 2010 at 10:39 am 

…With regard to the procession of the Holy Spirit, I think that what John Bekkos taught was essentially the doctrine that was taught by St. Maximus the Confessor, six and a half centuries earlier. There were people in St. Maximus’s day who were claiming that the filioque was a heresy; St. Maximus said that this teaching was rather due to the peculiarity of the Latin language, that the Latins do not mean to assert two causes in God, that they are aware that the Father is the one cause, of the Son by generation, of the Holy Spirit by procession; he also noted that the Latins, legitimately, cite the example of St. Cyril of Alexandria in support of their usage. 

In another text, St. Maximus states that, “Just as Mind is cause of the Word, so it is also [cause] of the Spirit, but by means of the Word. And just as we cannot say that a word is ‘of the voice,’ so also we cannot say that the Son is ‘of the Spirit.’” (Quaestiones et dubia I.34: Ὥσπερ ἐστὶν αἴτιος τοῦ λόγου ὁ νοῦς, οὕτως καὶ τοῦ πνεύματος, διὰ μέσου δὲ τοῦ λόγου. καὶ ὥσπερ οὐ δυνάμεθα εἰπεῖν τὸν λόγον εἶναι τῆς φωνῆς, οὕτως οὐδὲ τὸν υἱὸν λέγειν τοῦ πνεύματος.) Although Bekkos did not know of this text, it gives a succinct and accurate statement of his position. The Father is the one cause, but he causes through the Word. The Father’s causing of the Spirit through the Word is not merely a matter of manifestation, “energetic procession”; it has to do with being. St. Maximus had lived in the West, he was aware of what people in the West were teaching, and yet he did not condemn the Western position as heresy. Rather, he wrote about the doctrine of the procession in such a way as to mediate between the Latin and the Greek positions. 

Bekkos saw that Photius’s syllogisms made such a mediating, irenic position impossible, so he criticized Photius. He thought that Photius’s syllogisms against the West were based on logical premises that had no patristic basis. And I have to say, that Photius’s basic dilemma — that, if you assert that the Holy Spirit exists from the Father and the Son, either you imply that the Father and the Son are two separate causes, two archai, of the Holy Spirit, which is a kind of Manichaean dualism, or else you imply that the Father and the Son have coalesced into one person, which is Sabellianism — this basic dilemma seems to me closely akin to what the Arians in the early fourth century were saying about the homoousion itself: they also were saying that, if the Son is homoousios with the Father, then either the Father and the Son are two separate archai, or else they are melded into one person. It was heretical and illogical in the fourth century; somehow, when Photius asserts it in the ninth century, it becomes the touchstone of Orthodoxy for all time.

So, no, I do not agree that my argument is like having Arius tell St. Athanasius that there was no Church Father before him who had claimed that the Father and the Son are consubstantial. The position of St. Athanasius, that the Father and the Son are consubstantial, was upheld by an ecumenical council of the whole Church, East and West, as being a faithful statement of the universal, catholic teaching of the one Church of Christ. Neither Photius’s diatribes against the West nor Gregory Palamas’s dogma about essence and energies can show that kind of validation. And, if one takes Photius’s and Gregory Palamas’s positions as infallible criteria of orthodoxy, it becomes difficult to see why East and West were ever in communion with each other in the first place. 

Neither of these men makes any serious effort to show that the doctrines especially associated with them — the “from the Father alone,” on the one hand, the “ineffable real distinction in God between essence and energy,” on the other — agree with anything that Latin-speaking Christians had ever believed. The point was simply irrelevant to them. But harmony and agreement with the Latin-speaking Church was not irrelevant to St. Athanasius, or St. Maximus, or the Cappadocian fathers, just as it was not irrelevant to John Bekkos. All of these men understood that the survival and growth of the Christian Church in a hostile and dangerous world is not an automatic given, that peace among Christians has to be actively, intelligently maintained, in some cases repaired when it has been broken. For this reason, I think your analogy of Arius and St. Athanasius radically misses the mark.

For this reason, I also brought up the point about the Turban and the Tiara. No, I do not possess any special information about threats to Christianity. I do know that the European Union, by its economic policies, has brought about in a few decades a demographic transformation of Western Europe that appears to be irreversible, and that Mehmed the Conqueror and Suleyman the Magnificent would have found very gratifying. How to respond to that transformation in a genuinely Christian manner is obviously a difficult and complex question; but it is one issue among many that raise for me profound concerns about the future of Christianity — indeed, I think that anyone who is informed about the present state of the world ought to be concerned about the future of humanity itself. A healing of the division between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches seems to me a most urgent need if the Church is to give a credible, united witness to its faith before a sceptical and cynical world. I agree with you that the Fourth Crusade was a gross crime (although the murder of some thousands of Venetians in Constantinople a few years earlier was not the work of angels!).

I do not agree with you that the policy of unionists like Bekkos had mainly secular motivations, or that it was an abandonment of the faith of the fathers, or that it was in any way to blame for the fall of the Byzantine state. The last Byzantine emperor, who died defending the walls of Constantinople, was a unionist, and an Orthodox saint. And when you say, “there was no Greek nation at that time,” it is clear that you misunderstand what the English word “nation” means: it does not refer chiefly to a political entity, but to an historical, linguistic, and cultural one, to a people. In that sense, there certainly existed a Greek nation at that time, and it certainly became enslaved. I think that men like Joseph Bryennios and Mark of Ephesus bear some share of the responsibility for that catastrophe, by helping to make Christian reconciliation impossible by their polemics. And those who continue those polemics will bear some responsibility before the throne of Christ for the next catastrophe, whenever and wherever it comes.

That there is an order in the Trinity was expressly taught by many statements of the saints, one of them being the very citation from St. Maximus I quoted above: the Spirit is “of the Son,” and not vice versa. Another is found in St. Basil’s Adversus Eunomium I.20 (PG 29b, 557B-C); St. Basil asks, concerning Eunomius:
”For what reason, then, does he deny that order holds good in God? He supposes that, if he can show that being ‘first’ in the case of God can be thought of in no other way, he will be able to show the rest, that this is a precedence according to essence itself. But as for us, we say that the Father is placed before the Son according to the relation which exists among causes and things from them, but never that it is according to a difference of nature, or according to a priority of time. Otherwise we would even be excluding God’s very being Father, since, were they differentiated in essence, this would exclude a natural conjunction.”

St. Basil here does not deny the Father’s being first. As for you, you seem to think that being first can only be conceived of in the way that Eunomius does, as a difference in nature. St. Basil does not agree with you.
~ ~ ~
Who is misrepresenting the fathers here, me or you? You confidently assert that, “No, there is no order in the Trinity.” You represent any assertion of order in the Trinity as a denial of Christ’s statement, “I and the Father are one.” In Basil’s Letter 52.4 (PG 32, 396B-C), he asks:
“But what madness is this, when one is the Unbegotten, to say that there is another one that is above the Unbegotten? For there is nothing that stands in the mean position between Son and Father…. Thus, this innovation concerning order holds forth a negation of the very existence [of the Trinity], and is a denial of the whole faith. It is equally impious, either to reduce [the Holy Spirit] to the level of a creature, or to set him above either Son or Father, either with respect to time, or with respect to order.”

How does this stand next to your assertions that it is legitimate to teach that the Son is “from the essence of the Father and the Spirit,” or that the Father is “from the essence of the Spirit and the Son” — that, essentially, since the essence is the same, it doesn’t matter who is from the essence of whom? 

St. Gregory of Nyssa, at the end of Book One of his Contra Eunomium (PG 45, 464B-C), writes:
“Our account of the Holy Spirit is the same, with a difference only of order. As the Son is joined to the Father, and having his being from him does not come afterwards in existence, so in turn the Holy Spirit holds close also to the Onlybegotten, who only in terms of causation is thought of as prior to the existence (hypostasis) of the Spirit; temporal measures have no place in preeternal life. So with the exception of the idea of cause, the Holy Trinity has no variation in itself at all.” (Tr. by Stuart G. Hall.)

What do you think? When St. Gregory says here that, in the case of the Holy Spirit, there is only a difference of order (μόνῃ τῇ τάξει τὴν διαφορὰν ἔχων), do you really think that he agrees with you that “there is no order in the Trinity”? When he says that the Onlybegotten is thought of as prior to the hypostasis of the Spirit only in terms of causation, do you really suppose that he thinks of such priority only in terms of a “manifestation” or “energetic procession,” not in terms of real, hypostatic being?

I do not deny that there are ambiguities in the fathers, that sometimes the statements of the fathers in one place are difficult to square with their statements in another. What I am saying is that, in the mind of any honest reader of the fathers, such passages ought to raise questions about the absolute sufficiency of the Photian reading, the view that poises East and West in everlasting, diametrical opposition. And I don’t know that one is being unfaithful to the Orthodox Church for asking such questions. 

~ ~ ~

When you say that “what the faithful receive from Christ is the Holy Spirit as energy and not as person,” you state a position which St. Cyril of Alexandria explicitly rejects. 

In Book VII of his Dialogues on the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity (PG 75, 1088D-1089A), St. Cyril writes:
“But if the grace conferred by the Holy Spirit is something divorced from his essence, why did the blessed Moses not state clearly, when the living creature was being brought into being, that the Creator of all things then breathed in grace, the grace which came through the breath of life; or why did Christ not say, ‘Receive grace by the ministry of the Holy Spirit’? But what was breathed into him was named ‘the breath of life,’ for the true life is the nature of the divinity, if in fact it is true that in him we live, and move, and exist; while, by the Savior’s expression ‘Holy Spirit,’ the very Holy Spirit, in truth indwelling and abiding in the souls of the faithful [is signified].”

The fact that St. Cyril does not say here what you think he ought to be saying, the fact that he teaches that it is the Spirit himself whom Christ bestows, not just an energy or grace, gives me little confidence that you know what you are talking about when you interpret Cyril’s statement at PG 75, 600C as though it were a denial of the things he says elsewhere, e.g., that the Spirit exists from the Son (Θεὸς ἄρα τὸ Πνεῦμά ἐστιν, ὡς ἐν τάξει Θεοῦ, κατοικῶν ἐν ἡμῖν, καὶ, ἵν᾽ οὕτως εἴπω, τῆς ἀνωτάτω πασῶν ἐξέρπον οὐσίας ἐν ἰδίᾳ τε ὑπάρξει καὶ ἐκ Πατρὸς νοούμενον, δι᾽ Υἱοῦ τῇ κτίσει χορηγούμενον: “Therefore the Spirit is God, as being in the rank of God, dwelling in us and, so to speak, emerging forth from the highest essence in his own existence, and understood as from the Father, bestowed through the Son upon the creation.” Your paraphrase of this as “Cyril saying that the existence of Holy Spirit from the Father” is misleading: it is, literally, from the highest essence that the hyparxis of the Spirit is here said to come forth.). 

You say that, “it is also as plain as day that in saying that the Spirit is from the essence of the Son, Cyril refers to their consubstantiality.” Yes, clearly the main point of Cyril’s argument in these sections of the Thesaurus is that the Spirit is consubstantial with the Father and the Son; but in saying that the Spirit exists “from the essence of the Son,” he means more than just that they are consubstantial. For Cyril, the divine and the human in Christ interpenetrate; the fact that Christ breathes forth, not just some non-hypostatic grace, but the Holy Spirit himself, manifests an eternal relationship between the two.

St. Cyril is a subtle, dense writer, and the meaning of his expressions is not always transparent; but at least one recent, exhaustive study of his trinitarian language supports the reading I am presenting here. Marie-Odile Boulnois, in her book Le Paradoxe Trinitaire chez Cyrille d’Alexandrie (Paris 1994), argues that all of Cyril’s statements about trinitarian relations, including those which speak of the Spirit’s relationship with the Father, refer, in the first place, to the divine economy. We have no access to the transcendent life of God except through what he has done and revealed here in time. But she also thinks that, because of the hypostatic union in Christ of the human and the divine natures, these temporal facts, the things of the economy, are, for Cyril, genuine manifestations of God’s eternal, triune relationships. So, when St. Cyril says that the Spirit exists from the essence of the Son, or when he says that God breathes forth the Spirit from the Son, as from a mouth, these things do point to something not unlike the Latin doctrine — certainly something more than mere consubstantiality.

You write:
“Do you believe that the Orthodox Church fell short of Fathers after 800 AD or do you believe that her Fathers are those who abandoned her and those who were cut off from her? Does such a position seem Orthodox to you?”

As stated above, I believe that the theological position Bekkos enunciates in the thirteenth century, on the subject of the Procession, is basically the position St. Maximus the Confessor enunciated in the seventh century. I cannot believe that it was an Orthodox position when St. Maximus enunciated it, and Unorthodox or Heterodox when Bekkos enunciated it six centuries later. I know that Bekkos did not “abandon” the Orthodox Church; he tried to heal the schism between the Orthodox Church and Rome. The failure had less to do with the value of his arguments (most of which his contemporary opponents never seriously examined, just as you have not) than with the deep distrust that infected both sides, the unfortunate early death of Pope Gregory X and his replacement by a series of men who did not share his wisdom and patience, and, perhaps most importantly, with the immovable force of popular, nationalistic hatred, that was unwilling to consider Latins as fellow Christians. 

St. Maximus faced a fair bit of nationalistic hatred himself; that is why, when he was brought back to Constantinople from Rome, he had his tongue cut out and his thumbs cut off; Bekkos was merely sent to jail. I believe that God is merciful, and that most Orthodox Christians are too busy with the practical business of life to study those people you refer to as the later Fathers; they acknowledge their holiness, celebrate their memories, and leave their speculations for other people to worry about. If, as I think is the case, there are some genuine problems with some of those speculations, I do not think that that has had a great effect upon the piety of the majority of the Orthodox faithful; it has not prevented the appearance of real examples of holiness, and it has not prevented the sacramental life of the Orthodox Church from embodying saving divine grace. But, no, I do not think that being an Orthodox Christian means holding people like St. Photius, St. Gregory Palamas, and St. Mark of Ephesus as immune from rational criticism, as though their canonization meant that any interpretations they give of earlier Christian tradition must necessarily be true. When they misrepresent people, I do not follow them; to do so is not pious, but stupid, just as it is stupid and wicked to acquiesce in anything one knows to be a lie. 

I have written you a fairly long reply, in part because I ended the last one somewhat rudely, but mainly because you ask serious questions. You believe that the conditions of belonging to the Orthodox Church are agreement with the dogmatic positions of Sts. Photius and Gregory Palamas, those who condemned the Catholic West as heretical. Anyone who does not condemn the Catholic West as heretical is not, in your view, an Orthodox Christian. It is all very simple and tidy, it separates humanity neatly into Them and Us, and it saves one the trouble of looking very deeply into historical fact. I believe that when one looks deeply into historical fact, the neat categories of Us and Them tend to dissolve and blur, which can be very frightening: it might mean that we would end up having to love our neighbor as ourselves, if we actually understood who our neighbor was. Could that be a task that is actually laid upon us, that would make our Christianity a living reality instead of a dead relic of medieval debates? I wonder…Peter



  1. Have you read Vladimir Solovyevs work on this subject?

  2. I have not, except in excerpted form. Translations of his works are hard to come by and I've never extended a request through ILL.

    I know he is most sympathetic but he is ever so badly thought of among most Orthodox in America. I don't know how he is received outside of this country, but I expect the news is not good.


  3. let me know if the email address on your blogger profile is your current email, i will email a copy of Solovyevs very erudite,(i would say even prophetic) work, on the subject.

  4. Yes. It is my first choice of locations to receive mail. And thank you so much!



Related Posts with Thumbnails